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Musicians Angered by Violence at West Indian-American Day Parade

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A day after high levels of gun violence rocked the West Indian-American Day parade, musicians who march every year expressed frustration and anger.

“When you really look at the culture, it’s all about joy and self-expression," said Wilfred Kiael, Jr., the captain of the Despers USA steel drum orchestra. "When people come out to destroy that fun we try to create, it’s disheartening.”

Most of the shootings that happened in Brooklyn over the past few days were not directly related to the parade. One shootout late Monday night a few blocks from the parade route killed two people — including an innocent bystander — and wounded two police officers. Several other shootings occurred earlier in the day on the main parade route along Eastern Parkway. Another incident happened during the pre-dawn J’Ouvert procession. A man was shot in the leg during an argument at the entrance to a McDonalds on Empire Boulevard, sending carnival revelers running in panic.

During J’Ouvert, steel bands march from Grand Army Plaza to Nostrand Ave. and Eastern Parkway from 3 A.M. until 10 A.M. Festival-goers dance and throw paint at one another before the West Indian American Carnival Day parade starts. After getting a bad feeling about the parade this year, Kiael, Jr. decided not to march with his band, which includes drummers as young as 8 years old.

“Something told me not to send the band out and I believe in following my sixth sense,” said Kiael, Jr. “People’s parents depend on me to take care of them, I can’t afford to put anybody in danger.”

Martin Douglas, who has been playing steel drums since the ‘60s and runs the Crossfire Steel Orchestra, said violent incidents were an unfortunate reality of the West Indian-American Day Carnival, but had largely subsided in recent years. The last time someone was killed during the festival was in 2005.

“I guess it's back,” said Douglas. “My guess it has to do with the economy, people taking out their frustrations. It doesn’t excuse violence. But it happens because not everybody is strong enough to handle the hardship.”

Michael Jervis leads the Harmony Music Makers steel orchestra, and said his group works for months to showcase Trinidadian culture, only to have the event ruined by a few bad apples.

“These violent kids, they need to be stopped,” said Jervis. “I hope they will be caught and punished.”